Kristian Evjen

Interpreting Finn Mortensen’s Piano Music in an International Perspective 


Universitetet i Stavanger, Fakultet for utøvende kunstfag

University of Stavanger, Faculty of Performing Arts

Viva voce:

25 October 2023 



Håkon Austbø, Professor, UK, UiS

Per Dahl, Professor, UK, UiS (co-supervisor)


Assessment committee:

Einar Røttingen, Professor, UiB
Kathleen Coessens Antwerpen, Associate Professor, Belgia
Mine Doǧantan-Dack, Professor, University of Cambridge, UK  

Researc Catalogue exposition: 

Finn Mortensen (1922-1983) was one of Norway’s most central composers and influential modernists in the decades following the Second World War. Nevertheless, his music is little studied among both researchers and performers. The dominant contemporary view that Mortensen was, as the renowned Norwegian musicologist Finn Benestad put it, “[t]echnically competent and emotionally cold” (Benestad 1959), and a composer more occupied with the constructivist than the expressive and emotional sides of music has largely remained a prevailing paradigm. This perception was not improved by Mortensen’s tendency to always talk about his music in purely technical, compositional terms and to remain silent about the stylistic, aesthetic and emotional content on the few occasions he reluctantly commented on his music. In addition, his scores, characterised by an ascetic notational style, contain very few expressive marks, dynamic nuances, tempo modifications, or other signs that could reveal aesthetic or emotional intentions.


In my PhD project, which focuses on the performance and recording of Mortensen’s complete piano music, my starting point has been the opposing view that his music has dynamic power, flexible gestures, colourful harmonic language, and what I perceive as strong and varied emotional content. By juxtaposing Mortensen’s piano compositions with some of the most iconic music of the twentieth century, including music by composers that heavily influenced Mortensen’s development and fuelled his search towards an internationally oriented modernist style, I hope to expose a broader range of viable ways of performing Mortensen’s music. This way, I intend to challenge the view of Mortensen as merely a cold constructivist and instead shine a light on his other sides, the impulsiveness, expressivity and emotionality I have always perceived as inherently present in his compositions. The project could thus significantly impact the understanding of his music and enable performers to make artistic choices based on a broader and more nuanced frame of reference, facilitating a deeper insight into his musical intentions.
My main goal with this project has been to explore some of the music’s interpretational possibilities and, as an extension of this, disseminate and discuss the knowledge, methods and processes that can lead to new and personal interpretations. Through this project, I hope to contribute to a new assessment of the aesthetic, stylistic and expressive aspects of performing Mortensen’s piano music, and that way, challenge and nuance history’s judgment of one of Norway’s most central modernists.